RTD Cuts Would Eliminate Six Bus Lines, Reduce Service on 19 Others

Under service cuts proposed by RTD management, the Free MallRide shuttle would run every three minutes at peak hours, rather than every ninety seconds.
Under service cuts proposed by RTD management, the Free MallRide shuttle would run every three minutes at peak hours, rather than every ninety seconds. David Soto
Regional Transportation District officials have now formally spelled out how much service they plan to cut as part of their effort to address the agency's persistent shortage of train and bus operators — and for many suburban transit riders, sports fans and some people with disabilities, the impacts could be significant.

"All of this is a challenge," Pauletta Tonilas, RTD's assistant general manager for communications, told reporters in a briefing on Thursday, December 19. "Clearly we would rather not be doing any of this. Some of these I think are going to be painful to certain sectors of the population."

RTD's proposal would discontinue service entirely on six bus routes that the agency says are low-performing: the 16L along West Colfax; the 55 to Arvada Ridge; the 99L to Federal Center; the 157 between Aurora and Buckley Air Force Base; the 236 between Boulder Junction and Table Mesa; and the 403 between Littleton and Lone Tree.

Users of Access-a-Ride, RTD's paratransit service, who live within the service area of the eliminated bus routes will be grandfathered in, officials said, but the service will no longer accept new applicants in those areas.

The plan, which was presented to the RTD Board of Directors during a study session Thursday night, would also eliminate special services like BuffRide and BroncosRide, which have carried passengers to and from sports games and other special events. Nineteen other bus routes would see reduced service under the proposal — including the popular Free MallRide shuttle, which would run every three minutes at peak frequency rather than every ninety seconds.

The cuts would also affect light rail, where the agency's operator shortage is most severe and dozens of canceled trips have become an almost daily occurrence. D Line service to Littleton would be discontinued on weekends, the H Line would see reduced frequency on Saturdays, and the R Line between Aurora and Lone Tree would run every thirty minutes on weekdays rather than the current fifteen minutes.

The proposed service cuts are RTD management's attempt to stabilize its workforce by reducing the need for "mandating," or forced overtime, under which many operators have been required to work six days a week for years at a time. The agency is currently short about sixty light-rail operators out of the 216 it needs to run at full capacity, and eighty bus drivers out of 1,084 needed.

"This would align our service with our available workforce, allowing an opportunity to build up our workforce while providing some relief to our operators," said Michael Ford, RTD's chief operating officer. "But having said that, this will not completely eliminate mandating."

The specific service cuts outlined are a "work in progress," officials cautioned, and the agency will continue to gather public input on the proposal in January and February. If the RTD board approves a service reduction plan in March, the changes would go into effect in May 2020.

One thing that was conspicuously absent from Thursday's presentation was the word "temporary," which officials had previously used to describe the service cuts when first proposing them to the board and gathering public feedback earlier this year. If approved by the board, the reductions will not be automatically "sunsetted," as RTD Board Chair Doug Tisdale and others expressed hope they would be; instead, service would have to be restored through the system's typical "run board" process.

"We have to get to a certain headcount for a period of time to establish stability," said Jessie Carter, RTD's manager of service planning and scheduling. "And then we look at it like we look at any other service changes, and look at things that we have recently changed that it may make sense to bring back."

Riders can see a complete list of the proposed service cuts on RTD's website.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff